Thread Matters: How is Thread Weighted?

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback from last month’s issue of Thread Matters!  The question I was asked again and again was, “Is the 40 weight 3-ply thicker than the 40 weight 2-ply?”  The short answer to this question is YES – but what kind of (former) teacher would I be if I didn’t try to explain why?!?  The bigger answer to this question deals with the weight of the thread – how is the weight of thread determined and what does that number mean?

2018-03-08 21.38.10

Thread weight can be confusing, but once you understand where that number comes from it makes a little more sense. First, the higher the number – the thinner the thread.  I realize this is counter-intuitive…and here is where I will try not to bore you with too much technical information.

Cotton sewing thread has been traditionally measured with the abbreviation NE which stands for Number English.  The number refers to how many hanks (for cotton, a hank equals 840 yards – it is different for other types of fibers) weighs one pound.  80 weight thread is made of strands that take 80 hanks (or 67,200 yards) to weigh one pound whereas 40 weight thread is made of strands that take 40 hanks (or 33,600 yards) to weigh one pound.

Most of Aurifil’s thread is 2-ply, meaning it has two strands twisted together to create the finished product.  A common misconception is that the finished thread is what is used for the measurement or weighting.  Instead, it is each individual strand or ply that is used for the weighting.  This means that the new 40 weight, 3-ply thread is 1.5 times thicker than the original 40 weight 2-ply thread.

2018-03-08 15.58.44

If you look at the label of an Aurifil spool you can learn a lot about the thread on that spool.  Let’s take a closer look!

“MAKO’ NE 40/2” – this text tells you that the thread on this spool is made of cotton from the MAKO region of Egypt and that it is measured using the Number English standard of measurement.  The text also tells you that it consists of 2 strands (2 ply) of 40 weight thread.




Now let’s take a peek at the label for the Forty3. It shows “MAKO’ NE 40/3” — this means that it is made of 3 strands of the thread that are 40wt each.




If you missed last month’s installment of Thread Matters, head here. I went further into depth about our new Forty3 thread — how it is made, why it is so amazing, where you’ll want to use it, etc… To learn more about our 40wt/2-ply thread, you can browse our Aurifil Brochure by clicking here.

I am still investigating the etymology of the word “hanks” – I would love to know why cotton hanks are 840 yards and linen hanks are only 300 yards.  Please, help me solve this mystery!

I have been sewing since I was about 8, my mom was a crazy-talented artist/weaver/sewist/mom/teacher… (you get the idea!) and I remember her making all my costumes and many of my clothes.  My mother-in-law introduced me to quilting – which suits me more than making clothes as I have trouble sewing in 3-D.  After college, I worked for my mother’s luggage company, in sales and making prototypes of her antique reproduction bags before becoming a middle-school math teacher (yes, I am crazy!)

I still use my 45-year-old Kenmore sewing machine on which I learned how to sew. Soon it will be cool again, because it will be officially “vintage”. I was introduced to Aurifil 9 years ago by the man who services my machine. He said he wouldn’t take care of my baby if I used anything else, and he would know if I cheated. I have not used anything else since!


  1. Thank you so much for this. I love learning new things even at my age. I love Aurifil thread. I just received my Fourty 3 cone and am looking forwarded to Quilting with it. I currently use Ariifil 40/2 for Quilting.

    1. I agree with Barbara. I got a sample pack of Aurifil and trying to decipher the numbers on the end of the spool so I can tell the difference between them besides color. Thread is not just thread once you’ve tried Aurifil. Been slowly switching all my thread stash to Aurifil threads.

      1. Where’s the Pinterest link? Would love to save this but you only have Facebook, mail and Twitter.

Leave a Reply